It’s more than a little ironic, when you think about it. We head out into the wide, green world in our campers to experience the magic of nature… while our very presence in those wild lands (and the hefty motor vehicles that get us there) work to degrade its health and beauty. It’s a classic case of being unable to have your cake and eat it too. What in the world are eco-conscious wanderlusters supposed to do?
Obviously, as campers, we want to see the world. And we may even be a little more cognizant than most about our duty to keep it green and flourishing. Otherwise, it won’t exist as it is today for future generations to explore and fall in love with.
And although balancing our desires to experience the earth and to save it may seem tricky, it is possible… with a little bit of forethought and planning.
Eco Vacations: Being Green on the Go
Let’s face it: taking a road trip isn’t the greenest activity in the world, even if you’re driving a regular-sized vehicle. In fact, of all the different types of transportation out there, cars rank pretty low in terms of per-passenger fuel efficiency.
Given that a figure like “6 miles to the gallon” is far from unheard of in the RVing world, it’s no surprise that motorhome and travel trailer camping is sometimes considered a less-than-green vacation option.
But RV camping can actually be less of a burden on our planet than other types of travel, even with their notable lack of fuel efficiency. For one thing, when you’re bringing your very own private bungalow along for the ride, you’re not forced to rely on hotels… which are basically carbon emissions factories, with their 24/7 electric lights and endless amounts of food are wasted each morning after the breakfast buffet.
Like any other mode of travel (or any other human activity, period), the actual fuel-efficiency of your RVing adventure depends on you. You can definitely go all-out and have a fairly wasteful, not-so-green journey… but there are also some pretty easy ways to lighten your load on Mother Nature while still enjoying everything RVing has to offer.
How to Travel Light — Even in a Big Motorhome
Here at RVshare, we’re all about green travel. So we’ve brought you some tips, tricks, and secrets to help make your next camping trip a little less taxing on Mother Earth. Not only will these tactics help keep your journey eco-conscious, but they might also just change the way you think about traveling and existing on our planet in general. Lots of them are easy to adopt and implement once your vacation is over!
Without further ado, here are our best eco-friendly travel trips for RV campers of all stripes.
1. Bring less than you think you need… because you probably need even less than that.
It might not seem like overpacking has much of an effect on your carbon footprint… but it definitely can. Each pound of weight you add to your camper’s total does have an effect on the vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency — and the more you pack, the more disposable junk you’re likely to bring along.
By cutting down on how much stuff you bring along, you’ll enable yourself to travel in a smaller, more fuel-efficient (and therefore eco-friendly) travel trailer or motorhome. You may also be surprised by just how little you actually need — and that realization can be insanely liberating.
2. Don’t drive around with full tanks of water.
Even if you’re really conscious about how much weight you’re packing into your rig, it can be really easy to forget about one of the heaviest bits of cargo you’re hauling — water! A single gallon of the stuff weighs more than 8 pounds, so if your rig has a 40-gallon freshwater tank, you’re adding an extra 350 pounds or so.
Of course, if you’re headed off the grid for boondocking (more on that in a minute!), you’re going to need an ample fresh water supply. But it’s best to fill up right before you get to your campsite, so you’re not overtaxing your engine the whole way there. And if your destination is a resort-style campground, or even just a state park with hookups… why make your camper do unnecessary heavy lifting? Just wait to use the water connection once you get there.
2. Get your phone in on the game.
You probably don’t think of your phone as a particularly eco-friendly object. After all, plenty of water, strip mining, and carbon emissions go into making those little devices.
But you can help offset those baddies a little bit by downloading a few eco-minded apps into your portfolio.
For example, GreenMeter will help you learn about how to maximize your vehicle’s fuel efficiency, taking acceleration, speed, and aerodynamic drag into account. And GiveO2 will track all of your transportation-based carbon emissions, and then give you different sustainable projects to choose from which you can invest in to help offset your burden. Pretty neat, huh?
Fuel-Efficient RV: It Doesn’t Have to Be an Oxymoron!
We love our RVs, to be sure… but we also know that they’re gas burners. Even the lightest-weight motorhome or travel trailer requires a whole lot of fuel to get moving!
But there are a few ways you can try to minimize your RV’s ecological impact, specifically surrounding those great big fuel tanks it’s got.
3. Take the smallest RV possible for your family’s camping needs.
Not only are small RVs more fuel-efficient (and therefore better for Mother Earth), but they’re also a great way to take on a camping experience that’ll truly reconnect you with nature. After all, when you’re lounging on the leather couch of a giant, Class A diesel pusher worth half a million dollars, it’s easy to forget you’re camping at all!
A sleeper van, small lightweight trailer, or pop-up camper will reduce your trip’s carbon footprint by a boatload — not to mention your actual gas expenditures, which is a nice bonus for your travel budget. Having a small living space will also force you to be really cutthroat when it comes to packing; you can’t bring everything in the house when you only have a few hundred square feet to work with! Overpacking weighs down any RV, tanking even the greenest rig’s fuel efficiency. (No pun intended.) And if you’ve got huge kitchen cabinets, it’s much more tempting to purchase and bring along convenience foods packaged in plastics — which are not the best for the earth or for you.
Ditch all of that and get simple, simply by driving a smaller vehicle. You may be surprised at how liberating it is to realize how little you really need: basic sustenance, a place to sleep, a roof over your head, and your favorite people. (Plus, it’s a great incentive to get outside and go explore your destination!)
4. Take a staycation.
It’s a simple equation: the less you drive, the less fuel you’ll burn. And when you’re RV camping, you don’t have to go great distances to have a whole lot of fun!
Instead of an epic cross-country road trip, consider checking out what kind of adventures are waiting in your very own backyard. Chances are there are some amazing places you haven’t discovered yet, even if you’ve lived there for quite a while. State and national parks are a good place to start, since they generally offer relatively low-cost camping options that also provide unmitigated access to beautiful, natural landscapes. And hey, we’ve definitely heard of people having an amazing camping weekend without leaving their actual, literal backyards, too.
5. Drive a newer model.
While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, in general, the newer an RV is, the more eco-friendly an RV is. As the camping community has grown and demand has increased, manufacturers have been able to come up with new ways to significantly lighten their motorhomes while simultaneously creating engines that require less fuel to make more power. So if it’s at all possible for your trip, try and choose a newer model, which is more likely to be at least slightly greener for the planet
Psst — there’s some speculation within the camping community that a diesel rig is a green RV, even if it’s a big Class A motorhome. But the story isn’t actually that simple! Although diesel engines do tend to offer better fuel efficiency than their gas equivalents, diesel also emits 15% more greenhouse gasses per gallon than gasoline does, as well as some airborne particulates and nitrogen oxides. So really, it’s kind of a toss up… and the best option is to find ways to make whatever vehicle you drive as fuel-efficient as possible, regardless of what that fuel source is. (Please see: the rest of this list!)
6. Bring the whole fam!
One of the best parts of camping is getting the whole group together, whether it be a family reunion or your old college friends. And although it may seem like fun to caravan (i.e., have each smaller group bring their own camper to meet together at some central location), it’s a whole lot greener to bring as many people as possible in just one camping vehicle.
Now, depending on how big your party is, that may not actually be physically possible. But even still, narrowing your caravan down to the minimum number of RVs necessary will take a few more large, gas-burning vehicles off the road. And as long as you’re comfortable with each other, you can get pretty creative with RV sleeping space solutions — especially since many rigs come with all sorts of auxiliary, fold-out sleeping options, whether they’re hiding in the dinette or the sofa.
Traveling with a big group for a long period of time in a small camper can get pretty overwhelming, though. Our best advice? Use the time to get outside and go exploring — and check out these tips for helping everyone find just a little bit of personal space and solace inside your big, happy family camper.
Tips and Tricks for Green Camping
As far as green RVing goes, it’s not just the steps you take to green-ify how you get there — it’s also what you do once you arrive. Here are a few more eco-friendly tips to try at your next campsite.
7. Give boondocking a try.
If you looked up “boondocking” in the dictionary, it might redirect you to “eco camping” — that is, if your dictionary had either of those entries in the first place.
What we’re trying to say is, if you do it right, getting off-grid can be the perfect way to create a perfectly green campground: no electricity, no power-sucking pool or clubhouse with always-on electric lights. Just you, your rig, the stars, and those beautiful natural surroundings you’re working so hard to help keep green.
Of course, it’s also possible for a boondocking trip to be as not-green as possible. For instance, you totally defeat the purpose if you run your generator the whole time, releasing toxic fumes (not to mention annoying noise pollution).
So for earth-friendly boondocking excursions, follow the most temperate weather and plan ahead so you won’t need to use any large, energy-sucking appliances — or outfit your RV with a solar power system if you really don’t want to give up those creature comforts.
All of which leads us to our next eco-friendly trip tip…
8. Get serious about conserving water.
Obviously, water conservation is a huge issue in the world of ecological problems. We’ve only got so much fresh water on our planet to work with, and we all need it to survive. Our supply is constantly being dosed with nasties like pesticides and plastics, not to mention the antibiotics, hormonal birth control pills, and other medications we end up flushing into the system.
Thus, being conscious of our water usage is a key step toward ensuring the continued existence not only of our planet, but ourselves. And on a much less grandiose note, when it comes to camping, water conservation absolutely critical if you want to spend some time off the grid. Basically, you won’t be able to boondock at all if you don’t know how to get real stingy with your H2O usage.
There are lots of tactics off-grid campers use to stretch their potable water source so they can get the most out of every last ounce. Because once you’re out of fresh water, well — it’s time to go back to civilization. So the less you can use, the longer you can stay off-grid.
Some of the most important steps for saving water while you’re off the grid are pretty simple. Savy boondockers take very short showers, turning the tap on only when they absolutely need it — or even forgo showers entirely. (Hey, you’re in the woods. Who cares?)
Off-grid campers also favor meals that don’t require a whole lot of dishes to prepare or serve, so they don’t have to waste a bunch of water on cleanup. (This is yet another part of camping where an Instant Pot can work wonders.) They might also bring along extra drinking water in collapsible jugs, so they don’t have to use their RV’s built-in fresh water tank for drinking as well as washing, toilet-flushing, etc.
But there are also some more extreme steps you can take to get really frugal with your fluids. For instance, some boondockers will reuse their gray water (the relatively clean wastewater that goes down the drain of your sinks and showers) for flushing the toilet, or even washing dishes if it’s pretty darn clean. In this way, you get much more “fresh” water to draw from for these non-drinking water utilizations.
For even more information on how to take your water-saving game to the next level, check out this RVshare blog post about ways to save water on the road. (And keep in mind, all these steps can totally be tweaked for use at home, too. Access to fresh water is always a precious commodity, even when our kitchen taps make it seem like a foregone conclusion!)
9. Revamp your camping kitchen.
What we eat has a huge part to play in how we’re affecting the planet. Changing up little parts of your diet (or the cooking methods you use to prepare the foods you’re eating) can work wonders for reducing your overall ecological burden.
Start by relying on sustainable, local food products — as opposed to those shelf-stable foods that, while convenient, are usually wrapped in non-earth-friendly plastics (and are maybe not so great for your physical health, either). Here’s another great tip: avoid stocking up on groceries before you leave, and do the majority of your grocery shopping once you get there. Then, you’ll have a better chance of finding actual local foods (perhaps at a neighborhood farmers market!) and you’ll also cut down on some of the total cargo weight, which affects your fuel efficiency while you’re driving.
Along with purchasing the right foods, it’s also important not to waste them once you’ve got them! Did you know that Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day? TONS. That’s insane, considering how much water, power, and land go into producing those products… not to mention all the people who are literally starving to death around the globe.
Finally, don’t forget about cooking itself. As it turns out, some methods are greener than others. High on the list, apparently? Slow cookers! Not only do they draw very little power, but they also require little cleanup (i.e., little water)… and most importantly, pretty much anything you throw into one turns out delicious.
It might seem difficult to store and utilize fresh, local foods in your RV’s limited space, but it is possible. Here are a few RVshare posts that’ll help you obtain the best nutrition for both you and the earth — and to avoid wasting it (or otherwise creating excess garbage) once you’ve got it.
- 8 Food Packages that Can be Reused Instead of Tossed
- Tips for Storing and Keeping Food Fresh on your RV
- 5 Effortless Ways to Reduce Daily Waste in your RV and Life
- Unique Ways to Cook While on the Road
10. Take the meat out of your meals — just some of the time.
There’s nothing like a steak or burger fresh off the grill. But did you know that meat production — and beef, specifically — is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions worldwide?
While many of your favorite camping recipes likely feature meat, there are also some amazing vegetarian camping recipes to work into your rotation. In fact, since we’re thinking about the grill, you might be surprised at how meaty and satisfying a nice, grilled mushroom or zucchini might be. (Pro tip: Also try fruit on the grill! Charred peaches make an absolutely drool-worthy summertime camping dessert.)
Even eating a vegetarian meal just once or twice a week can help cut down on your overall carbon footprint. (And besides, adding a heap of fresh produce to your diet will make your body feel amazing, too.)
And if you just can’t stomach the idea of an animal-free diet — even for a day — consider making dinner out of super-local meat… like trout you’ve just pulled fresh out of the stream.
Take Advantage of Eco-Friendly Tourism
Alright. You’ve cut down your packing list to the bare minimum, chosen the smallest, newest RV you can, and revamped the way you approach your daily cooking and cleaning. Your RV trip is officially on its way to super greenness! But what about the stuff you decide to do once you arrive at your destination?
One of the most important parts of eco tourism is choosing activities that are sustainable. For example, whiling away the afternoon at a theme park may be good fun… but all those rides and games require a whole lot of energy to keep running. (And that’s not to mention the food, fireworks, administrative offices, etc.)
Fortunately, RVing and camping make for some of the most eco-friendly trips available, just by virtue of the fact that they’re all about getting out into nature. Instead of relying on large, whirling, energy-sucking contraptions to have fun, you can create the perfect afternoon just by getting out into the nearby woods on foot or by bicycle — both of which cause exactly zero carbon emissions. (Well, except for your sweat!)
Many destinations in natural areas also offer a wide range of eco tours and other types of sustainable tourism. For instance, Saint Augustine, Florida, the nation’s oldest city, offers a wonderful guided kayak excursion, which gives visitors the opportunity to learn more about both the landscape and the unique history all without relying on traditional vehicular transport. (Plus, it’s great exercise… which is especially important given how many wonderful restaurants and bars there are in that little city!)
There are also lots of other ecologically friendly tourism operations popping up all across the country, especially in the western states where the natural landscape is one of the biggest attractions to visitors in the first place. For example, many vineyards in Oregon (where wine-tasting is a must) have now converted to fully organic, sustainable farming, which you can experience directly in their tasting rooms. Being green has never tasted so good, right?
No matter where you’re headed on your next camping trip, chances are there’s some sort of sustainable tourism operation in town — as a culture, we’re (thankfully) getting a whole lot more mindful about our environmental impacts. So go ahead and check to see what kind of eco-friendly fun you can get into. And don’t forget, if all else fails… you’ve always got your trusty hiking boots to fall back on!
Make Your Next Family Vacation Earth Friendly
As we hope this post has shown, it’s not that difficult to add a little bit of ecological consciousness to your next vacation, even if you’re traveling in a relatively gas-heavy vehicle like an RV. By taking a little bit of time and effort, you can make any excursion just a little bit greener, whether you’re traveling over the summer or during the holidays.
Of course, being green isn’t the only concern you have to consider before you get on the road, especially if you’re new to the wide world of RV camping. (By the way, if you are, welcome!) Here at RVshare, our focus is to get you on the road as comfortably and safely as possible… and to make sure you have an amazing time while you’re at it.
That’s why we’ve written tons of content to help you make your next vacation absolutely amazing, whether it’s your first RV trip or your fifth. (Or, heck, even your fiftieth!)
So check out the following RVshare posts to help you get your next trip started on the right foot… er, tire.
- 7 Easy (But Exciting!) Road Trips for the First Time RVer
- How to Set Up Your RV at a Campground the First Time
- First-Time RV Setup
- Avoid Overpacking: 5 Things NOT to Bring Along on your RV Trip
- How to Mindfully Choose your Next RV Destination
Happy camping — enjoy this great, big, green world of ours. Chances are, your trip will help remind you exactly why it’s worth protecting.
This post may contain affiliate links.